Film Review – Rise of the Guardians
It’s been a good year in animated film. The trend continues with Rise of the Guardians. DreamWorks has really stepped up their game in the last few years, following the successes of How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and the Kung Fu Panda series. Once again, they have given us a solid outing, with an adaptation of the children’s book by William Joyce. Written for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Peter Ramsey, this is a fantastical adventure that encompasses many magical realms and provides fresh perspectives to age-old legends and myths. As a movie geared for the entire family, this fires on all cylinders, from the exquisitely detailed animation to the thought-out character development. This one will entertain people of all ages; if given the chance, it will come as a pleasant surprise.
The “guardians” of the title refers to the spirits and folktale characters all-too-familiar to parents and their kids. We have The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Sandman, and, of course, Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin). One of the many welcomed twists is how the filmmakers re-imagined each of these well-known figures. The Tooth Fairy (or “Tooth”) looks more like a flying mermaid, and commands a vast army of other fairies in collecting teeth. The Easter Bunny is not your regular cute, cuddly animal, but a wisecracking tough guy sporting an Australian accent and two boomerangs as weapons. The Sandman (or “Sandy”) is the silent-but-deadly type, whose purpose is to give children pleasant dreams, but who can also be more powerful than any other guardian. And Santa Claus, decorated with “Naughty” and “Nice” tattoos on his forearms, is the group’s spiritual leader, even while being jolly and having a child’s sense of wonderment.
Each of the guardians shares something in common: young children have a strong belief in their existence. It is this belief that gives each of them their power and ability to do good. That is, until the evil boogeyman known as Pitch (Jude Law) enters the fray. Exhibiting a deep desire to convince children of his existence and the reality of fear, Pitch makes it his goal to spread nightmares and cause kids to no longer believe in the guardians. Needing help, they turn to The Man in the Moon for advice. This is where they run into the main character of the film, Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Known as a prankster, Jack doesn’t have the belief of children, and as a result is invisible to them, whereas the others can be seen. What Jack wishes more than anything else is to understand his purpose. All the other guardians have something to do, while he only provides unexpected snow days. He agrees to team up with them to understand why The Man in the Moon chose him specifically over any other.
This is one of the most beautiful-looking animated films to come out this year. There were several instances where I noticed how detailed the world-building was. Each environment feels lived in, as though they have their own personalities and rich histories. It’s no surprise that Guillermo Del Toro is a producer, as his sense of magic is felt throughout. Each of the guardian’s realms has distinguishing characteristics. Tooth’s home in the sky has touches of Far Eastern flavors, while The Easter Bunny’s “down under” residence looks a bit like Wonderland. The North Pole is a combination of an old Russian palace and a state-of-the-art headquarters. It was funny to see Santa’s real little helpers being gigantic yetis instead of the pint-sized elves. Pitch’s dark world is made up of twisted shadows similar to Escher’s Stairs, and the beauty of Sandy’s world is that it is created in the minds of dreaming children, realized by the manipulation of his sleeping dust.
While the imagination put into the animation is certainly impressive, Ramsey and Lindsay-Abaire make it a point to focus on character. What is unique about Jack Frost is how he is eerily similar to Pitch. They are both ignored by children and adults alike as mere figments of the mind, things that shouldn’t be taken seriously. In a way, Jack has it worse than Pitch, because of the way he meanders around the world with no purpose or destination. At least Pitch knows what he needs to do and why he even exists; Jack cannot say the same. He doesn’t even know his own past. This makes Pitch’s goal strangely enticing to him. It would be much easier for kids to believe in Jack if he were to join forces with Pitch. That allows Rise of the Guardians to be better than your routine animated movie. While there are beautiful sights, lots of action, and plenty of laughs, the fact that we are given time to step back and examine the characters a little more closely turns this into one of the more unexpected successes of the holiday season.
Final Grade: A-